No, I don't mean the barn aisle cooing you do in that one voice you reserve only for your horse (you know exactly the one I'm talking about), or the conversations you have with him in his stall when you've had a really bad day and you want a pity party but don't want any actual humans to know about it (I can't be the only one that does that right?)...
|Who's a good boy?|
I'm talking about while you're riding, as in how often do you apply an aid or give a direction? There seem to be two distinct schools of thought on this. On the one hand, there's those that believe you should be in constant communication with your horse. If you aren't giving them some kind of direction at all times, then their minds are wandering, and you'll never get the kind of quality work you're looking for. You create the canter (or whatever you're working on) that you want, and you maintain it with active aids. I see this as the "Ride Every Stride" theory.
Then there's the belief that your horse should basically do what you've asked unless and until you tell him otherwise. For example, you establish the canter you want, and he should hold that canter on his own, with maybe only some supportive aids, until you ask for something different. Under this theory, you need only apply an aid when he starts to lose the canter you asked for, and then only briefly. We'll call this the "Set it and Forget it" theory.
I kind of like the idea of leaving Tucker alone and letting him do more work than me, because let's be honest, just trying to figure out how to keep my butt in the saddle with his big rolling beautiful canter has me breaking into a sweat (holy core muscles I never knew I needed). I intervene when he needs suppling or more forward energy or straightening, but otherwise he's got to do it on his own. I like the idea that he's thinking for himself a little, and it seems like a form of a "release" if I stop asking anything with my leg or hand if he's holding a good canter/trot/walk what-have-you.
I've had two rides recently, however, that have me wondering. On Saturday, I worked him in our new outdoor ring for the first time, and it was a sunny, windy, spooky kind of morning. As soon as I swung my leg over he started doing that tip-toe walk that has a little extra hop in it and makes me want to swing right back down. That was most certainly a "Ride Every Stride" kind of day, because when I stopped riding even for half a stride he was finding new and terrifying stuff to worry about (leaves, flags, fence posts, the Earth). We actually had some really good moments though, where I got a little more lift in his left shoulder than I've felt before and he got a little straighter on his right side and took the right rein more consistently.
Last night, he came out kind of stiff and generally meh. I don't know if the rain meant no turnout or less turnout, I'm guessing that was it, but I really had to work for it. I spent the whole ride just trying to get him to carry himself instead of dumping his front end and stretching his hind legs a mile behind us. I was basically constantly asking him for something: leg yields, shoulder fore, haunches-in, transitions within and between the gaits, etc., to get him balanced on his hind end and off my hands. It was another "Ride Every Stride" day, because when I tried to leave him be, I didn't like the response. But maybe I should have kept working him until he was willing to carry himself without my help?
I was once talking to a friend who told me her trainer said she should be making about sixteen corrections down one long side of the ring. Sixteen seems like an awful lot to me, but maybe it's not. Where do you fall on this? When you ride, are you always asking for something so your horse stays focused on you, or do you wait until you have to before you make an adjustment? I don't think either way is wrong, but I'm curious.